An old Portuguese narrative in dactylic stanzas versos de arte mayor , whose unknown author related, as well as he was able, the history of the conquest of Spain by the Moors, may not be so old as it is supposed to be by Manuel de Faria y Sousa, who would refer the origin of these verses to the very period of the Arabic invasion. They are, however, written in such antiquated language, that they may be regarded as of a date anterior to the Cantigas of Hermiguez and Moniz; and that they are the surreptitious fabrication of a later writer can scarcely be supposed, since no one could have hoped to acquire the least fame or reward by producing a counterfeit of so little value.
No opinion could be formed of the merits of the whole narrative from the few stanzas, which are now extant, even though the language were more intelligible than it is.
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In general all these remains of the most ancient Portuguese poetry must be considered only as first attempts. Throughout the whole of the thirteenth century, the poetic art in Portugal appears to have remained stationary in that degree of advancement to which it had arrived in the twelfth century. The language, however, became gradually more fixed and regular. In the latter half of the thirteenth century, king Diniz Dionysius of Portugal, promoted Portuguese literature in the same manner as his contemporary Alphonso the Wise, by his influence and example, improved the poetry of Castile.
Diniz, like Alphonso, was himself a poet and a prose writer. His poetic compositions were, according to the fashion of the age, collected in Cancioneiros song books , which bore the name of the author. But from the testimony of Portuguese writers, it appears that the poems of king Diniz are to be found only in old manuscripts. They cannot, however, be very few in number, for two Cancioneiros are named, one containing the spiritual, and the other the temporal works of the king.
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This institution was first established in the capital, but it was soon transferred to Coimbra, where it is still maintained, in a great measure, according to its original forms. It is one of the oldest universities in Europe. No accounts have been preserved of any other Portuguese writers, who, following the example of their king, may have more or less distinguished themselves in the cultivation of the national poetry; though at this period celebrated names might the more naturally be expected, as two poets had flourished in the twelfth century.
But the Portuguese bards, who, in the thirteenth century delighted their contemporaries by their poetic compositions, shared no better fate than the writers of the oldest Spanish canciones and romances. The fourteenth century is not much richer than the thirteenth in names, which shed a lustre on the history of Portuguese poetry. Scarcely any writers of verse are recorded, except those who were members of the royal family, as if they were considered the representatives of all the contemporary poets of their nation.
Alphonso IV. Affonso Sanchez, a natural son of Diniz, appears to have been gifted with a similar poetic talent. Pedro I. A Castilian poem by Pedro I.
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But this early influence of Italian poetry is also proved 12 by some Portuguese sonnets of the fourteenth or fifteenth century. Admitting the problematic sonnet to be really the production of the Infante Dom Pedro, and therefore written, at the earliest in the commencement of the fifteenth century, it is certain that at that period no imitation of the Italian style was thought of in Castile. In Portugal, however, the metrical form of the sonnet was not only known, as 13 it also was in Castile; but the Italian style was likewise imitated in sonnets. It is probable, that the mercantile intercourse between Lisbon and the ports of Italy, made the Portuguese early acquainted with Italian literature.
But at the period now under consideration, the imitation of the Italian style appears to have been very limited in Portugal; for the old lyric poetry in the national style, began about this time more particularly to unfold its characteristic beauties. According to the testimony of 14 a Spanish writer, 16 the Portuguese Cancioneiro Geral contains some poems of the fourteenth century, with the names of the authors affixed to them. In the fourteenth century too, Portuguese prose improved in precision, after a certain degree of literary consideration had been given to it, in consequence of chronicles being written in the national language.
From this period the Portuguese vied with the Castilians in the patriotic task of recording the memorable events of their national history. The style of the Portuguese chronicles of the fourteenth century is, however, completely in the chronicle manner. In Portugal as in Spain the fifteenth century was the period during which the old national songs and romances flourished in the greatest luxuriance. The correspondence between the Castilian and the Portuguese poetry, was at that time particularly promoted by the Galician poets, who though faithful subjects of the Castilian monarchy, still remained true to their mother tongue.
Galicia seems to have been the land of romantic sentiment whence the poetry of love exhibited in the lyric compositions of Spain and Portugal was transplanted. No Portuguese or Spaniard is so celebrated in poetic literature, for the influence of love on his fate, as the Galician poet and knight Macias, who lived in the first half of the fifteenth century, and of whose remarkable history a brief sketch may properly be introduced here.
Macias, who obtained the surnames of the enamoured and the great , distinguished himself as a brave warrior against the Moors of Granada, and as an accomplished writer in the literary retinue of the 16 Marquess of Villena. The marquess strictly prohibited him from continuing a secret intrigue in which he had embarked with a lady, who, through the intervention of the marquess, had become the wife of another knight.
But Macias conceived that he could not better prove his chivalrous constancy in love, than by boldly disobeying the commands of his patron. The marquess, however, availing himself of his power as grand master of the order of Calatrava, sent the refractory poet a prisoner to the kingdom of Jaen, on the frontiers of Granada. In his captivity Macias composed his songs of ill-fated love in the Galician language, which at the period of their production were highly esteemed, but which are now lost with the exception of a few trifles. On the discovery of the correspondence, the poetic boldness of Macias roused the husband of the lady to the most furious pitch of jealousy.
Armed cap-a-pee, he set out with the intention of slaying the unfortunate poet. He proceeded to the town of Arjonilla, where Macias was confined, and espying the prisoner at a window, he threw a javelin at him, and killed him on the spot. But the story has more properly its place in the history of Portuguese poetry. The Spanish amatory poets, however extravagant might be their extacies in verse, confined themselves, in real life, within certain boundaries, which were consistent with the habits of society.
The Portuguese, on the contrary, and as it would appear, the Galicians likewise, when they indulged in the poetic expression of violent and enthusiastic feelings of love, conceived that it was still necessary they should seek to impress the stamp of perfection on their songs, by exhibiting all kinds of sentimental excesses in their own personal conduct. The Spaniards seem always to have felt convinced that they could not attain the romantic tenderness of the Portuguese. But in order to pursue the comparison between the romance and lyric poetry of Portugal and of Spain, an intimate acquaintance with the old Portuguese Cancioneiros geraes general song books , is indispensable.
Writers on literature, however, usually refer to the Cancioneiro , which was printed in the year , by Garcia de Resende, a man of talent, who flourished at the courts of John II. The manuscript is dated It may, however, be presumed that the Portuguese poets, who were at this period so much more numerous than the Spanish, had advanced no farther than the latter in poetic refinement, for even Bernardim Ribeyro, called the Portuguese Ennius, 24 who lived until the commencement of the sixteenth century, and who is more celebrated than any other poetic writer of the fifteenth century, does not surpass the authors of the old Spanish ballads, in any thing connected with the cultivation of genius and the improvement of poetic language.
Thus in all literary probability the Portuguese Cancioneiro geral is merely a companion work to the Spanish collection. But the preponderating number of the poetic writers of Portugal, compared with those of Spain during the fifteenth century, is a circumstance particularly deserving of notice, since it proves that the soil of Portugal was then, as well as at an earlier period, even more fertile than Spain in poetic genius.
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Still, however, this indicates no peculiarly eminent talent. It is also but fair to observe, lest the superior number of the Portuguese poets, in proportion to the limited extent of their native land, should be too highly estimated, that in the fifteenth century, the Castilian monarchy was not what it now is; for it was bounded on the south by 20 the Moorish kingdom of Granada, and on the east by the Arragonian dominions, where the Limosin language exclusively prevailed. Narrative and particularly historical romances seem never to have been so highly esteemed by the Portuguese as by the Spaniards.
It is probable that in this class of composition the Portuguese merely imitated the Spaniards, whom they instructed, on the other hand, in bucolic poetry. The enthusiasm with which the Portuguese devoted themselves to the cultivation of lyric poetry in their native tongue, was not abated by the passion for latin poetry, which towards the close of the fifteenth century prevailed in Portugal as well as in Italy. This literary coincidence was probably occasioned by the commercial intercourse which then subsisted between Portugal and Italy.
The fame of Angelo Poliziano attracted one of his most ardent admirers, the ingenious Henrique Cayado, better known by the name of Ermigius, from Portugal to Italy, where he entered the ranks of the revivers of latin poetry.
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Cayado was imitated by a considerable number of Portuguese writers who became celebrated for 21 the composition of latin verse. There is also very little ground for supposing that the Portuguese writers endeavoured to form the romantic poetry of their country on the model of the antique. A correct notion of the essential distinction between romantic and classic composition secured at this period the Portuguese as well as the Italians against the introduction of incongruous and spurious forms in their poetry; and taste was not yet sufficiently cultivated to admit of a judicious union of the classic and the romantic styles.
The general improvement of the language, and the renewed intimacy with ancient literature, had even as early as the first half of the fifteenth century an advantageous influence on the Portuguese chronicle writers.
At this period a very copious chronicle of the reign of King John I. This writer distinguished himself as early as the reign of King Duarte, or Edward, whose successor, Alphonso V.
He neglects no opportunity of making his historical characters deliver speeches, after the manner of the ancient writers; and a certain degree of energetic simplicity is to be found in some of those harangues. Meanwhile the Portuguese monarchy approached the summit of its power and glory. While Spain, under the dominion of Ferdinand and Isabella, began to form itself internally into a single state, the government and people of Portugal directed their attention to discoveries and conquests in Africa and India.
A peculiar union of the heroism of chivalry, and the industry of social life which prevailed in Portugal, under the auspices of her enterprising sovereigns, impressed on the nation a consciousness of power, in which the Portuguese were in no respect inferior to the Castilians. The flag of Portugal waved along the western coast of Africa, where Portuguese factories began to be converted into colonies, extending towards the Cape which Vasco de Gama doubled in the year In 24 less than fifteen years after this memorable event, Portuguese valour, guided by the renowned leaders Francisco de Almeida and Alfonso de Albuquerque, succeeded in founding a kingdom in India, of which Goa was the capital.
At this period, during the glorious reign of Emanuel, who in the series of Portuguese sovereigns is distinguished by the surname of the Great, no Spanish poet had attained so much celebrity as was enjoyed by the Portuguese Bernardim, or according to the more ancient orthography of that name Bernaldim Ribeyro. A comprehensive idea of the nature of that romantic spirit, which every Portuguese poet conceived himself bound to exhibit in the fulfilment of his poetic destination, may be gathered from an account of the life and writings of this extraordinary man. This poet received such a literary education as was in those times required for the study of the law, and a subsequent residence at court.
Ribeyro found at the court of that sovereign an object capable of fixing his poetic fancy, but not his future happiness; for from that time forward the heart of this sentimental enthusiast appears to have been incessantly agitated by sad emotions. It is evident from his writings, that he has studiously 25 thrown a veil over the secret of his heart.
We are not informed how he reconciled this passion with his domestic relations, or whether at the period of his marriage he had emancipated himself from those romantic illusions which at other times exercised so powerful a dominion over him. It is related that he frequently retired to the woods where he passed the night alone, singing to the murmuring brooks his songs of passion and despair. But it is also said that he tenderly loved his wife, and after her death showed no inclination to enter, a second time, into the married state.
There is no possibility of reconciling these psychological inconsistencies, since it is not known at what period of his life Ribeyro retired from court.
Neither is it recorded at what period or at what age he died. But that he cherished romantic fancies in real life, as well as in his poetry, is a fact which is sufficiently confirmed by the accounts which have been preserved of his conduct and by the general character of his writings.
watch Among the poetic works of Ribeyro, so far as they are known, his eclogues are particularly distinguished. If not the very oldest, they are certainly among the most ancient compositions of the kind in Portuguese and Spanish literature; and when compared with those of Juan del Enzina, who flourished about the same time in Spain, they may, in every respect, claim the priority.
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Juan del Enzina ingeniously sported with simple ideas; but Ribeyro sang from his inmost soul. However, even Ribeyro is poor in ideas. His language 26 and composition are very remote from classical correctness, and his prolixity is tedious. They are all composed in Redondilhas , arranged in stanzas of nine or ten lines each, called decimas. Like most compositions in the class to which they belong, these eclogues assume the form of tales; but the lyric garb in which the simple materials are clothed, is the most interesting circumstance of the whole.
Ribeyro has described in his eclogues only the scenery of his native country. The Tagus, the Mondego, the sea on the coast of Portugal, and even sometimes the city of Coimbra, and other towns, are exhibited in a poetic point of view.